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Ten Books about Bach

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The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul. – Johann Sebastian Bach
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Sir John Eliot Gardiner, a conductor who has dedicated his career to the study and performance of Bach's music, grew up under the gaze of an authentic portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) in the stairwell of his family home. For those of us who are not quite so fortunate, here is a collection of books about the life and music of Bach. 

Yearsley, Dreyfus and Jones offer three different perspectives on Bach's creative process and style. Celia Applegate's Bach in Berlin explains Mendelssohn's role in the revival of Bach's music and the St. Matthew Passion in particular.

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    Bach

    Johann Sebastian Bach is one of the most unfathomable composers in the history of music. How can such sublime work have been produced by a man who seems so ordinary, so opaque - and occasionally so intemperate? In this remarkable book, John Eliot Gardiner distills the fruits of a lifetime's immersion as one of Bach's greatest living interpreters. Explaining in wonderful detail how Bach worked and how his music achieves its effects, he also takes us as deeply into Bach's works and mind as perhaps words can. The result is a unique book about one of the greatest of all creative artists.

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    Johann Sebastian Bach

    Although we have heard the music of J. S. Bach in countless performances and recordings, the composer himself still comes across only as an enigmatic figure in a single familiar portrait. As we mark the 250th anniversary of Bach's death, author Christoph Wolff presents a new picture that brings to life this towering figure of the Baroque era. This engaging new biography portrays Bach as the living, breathing, and sometimes imperfect human being that he was, while bringing to bear all the advances of the last half-century of Bach scholarship. Wolff demonstrates the intimate connection between the composer's life and his music, showing how Bach's superb inventiveness pervaded his career as musician, composer, performer, scholar, and teacher. And throughout, we see Bach in the broader context of his time: its institutions, traditions, and influences. With this highly readable book, Wolff sets a new standard for Bach biography.

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    Cambridge Companion to Bach, The

    The Cambridge Companion to Bach, first published in 1997, goes beyond a basic life-and-works study to provide a late twentieth-century perspective on J. S. Bach the man and composer. The book is divided into three parts. Part One is concerned with the historical context, the society, beliefs and the world-view of Bach's age. The second part discusses the music and Bach's compositional style, while Part Three considers Bach's influence and the performance and reception of his music through the succeeding generations. This Companion benefits from the insights and research of some of the most distinguished Bach scholars, and from it the reader will gain a notion of the diversity of current thought on this great composer.

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    The Creative Development of J. S. Bach Volume 1: 1695-1717

    This book gives an account of the individual works of one of the greatest composers. The first volume of a two-volume study of the music of J. S. Bach covers the earlier part of his composing career, 1695-1717. By studying the music chronologically a coherent picture of the composer's creative development emerges, drawing together all the strands of the individual repertoires (e.g. the cantatas, the organ music, the keyboard music). The volume is divided into two parts, covering the early works and the mature Weimar compositions respectively. Each part deals with four categories of composition in turn: large-scale keyboard works; preludes, fantasias, and fugues; organ chorales; and cantatas. Within each category, the discussion is prefaced by a list of the works to be considered, together with details of their original titles, catalogue numbers, and earliest sources. The study is thus usable as a handbook on Bach's works as well as a connected study of his creative development. As indicated by the subtitle Music to Delight the Spirit,, borrowed from Bach's own title-pages, Richard Jones draws attention to another important aspect of the book: not only is it a study of style and technique but a work of criticism, an analytical evaluation of Bach's music and an appreciation of its extraordinary qualities. It also takes account of the remarkable advances in Bach scholarship that have been made over the last 50 years, including the many studies that have appeared relating to various aspects of Bach's early music, such as the varied influences to which he was subjected and the problematic issues of dating and authenticity that arise. In doing so, it attempts to build up a coherent picture of his development as a creative artist, helping us to understand what distinguishes Bach's mature music from his early works and from the music of his predecessors and contemporaries. Hence we learn why it is that his later works are instantly recognizable as 'Bachian'.

    The Creative Development of Johann Sebastian Bach, Volume II: 1717-1750

    This is the second of a two-volume study of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Taking into account the vast increase in our knowledge of the composer due to the Bach scholarship of the last sixty years, Richard Jones presents a vivid and in some respects radically new picture of his creative development during the Cothen (1717-23) and Leipzig years (1723-50). The approach is, as far as possible, chronological and analytical, but the author has also tried to make the book readable so that it may be accessible to music lovers and amateur performers as well as to students, scholars, and professional musicians. There are many good biographies of Bach, but this is the first, fully-comprehensive, in-depth study of his music making it indispensable for those who want to study specific pieces or learn how he developed as a composer.

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    The Keyboard Music of J.S. Bach

    The Keyboard Music of J.S. Bach provides an introduction to and comprehensive discussion of all the music for harpsichord and other stringed keyboard instruments by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). Often played today on the modern piano, these works are central not only to the Western concert repertory but to musical pedagogy and study throughout the world. Intended as both a practical guide and an interpretive study, the book consists of three introductory chapters on general matters of historical context, style, and performance practice, followed by fifteen chapters on the individual works, treated in roughly chronological order. The works discussed include all of Bach's individual keyboard compositions as well as those comprising his famous collections, such as the Well-Tempered Clavier, the English and French Suites, and the Art of Fugue.

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    Bach and the Meanings of Counterpoint

    In Bach's Germany musical counterpoint was an art involving much more than the sophisticated use of advanced compositional techniques. A range of theological, cultural, social and political meanings attached themselves to the use of complex procedures such as canon and double counterpoint. This book explores the significance of Bach's counterpoint in a range of interrelated contexts: its use as a means of reflecting on death; its parallels to alchemy; its vexed status in the galant music culture of the first half of the eighteenth century; its value as a representation of political power; and its central importance in the creation of Bach's image in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Touching on a wide array of contemporary literary, philosophical, critical, and musical texts, the book includes new readings of many of Bach's late works in order to re-evaluate the status and meaning of counterpoint in Bach's work and legacy.

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    Bach in Berlin

    Bach's St. Matthew Passion is universally acknowledged to be one of the world's supreme musical masterpieces, yet in the years after Bach's death it was forgotten by all but a small number of his pupils and admirers. The public rediscovered it in 1829, when Felix Mendelssohn conducted the work before a glittering audience of Berlin artists and intellectuals, Prussian royals, and civic notables. The concert soon became the stuff of legend, sparking a revival of interest in and performance of Bach that has continued to this day. Mendelssohn's performance gave rise to the notion that recovering and performing Bach's music was somehow "national work." In 1865 Wagner would claim that Bach embodied "the history of the German spirit's inmost life." That the man most responsible for the revival of a masterwork of German Protestant culture was himself a converted Jew struck contemporaries as less remarkable than it does us today―a statement that embraces both the great achievements and the disasters of 150 years of German history. In this book, Celia Applegate asks why this particular performance crystallized the hitherto inchoate notion that music was central to Germans' collective identity. She begins with a wonderfully readable reconstruction of the performance itself and then moves back in time to pull apart the various cultural strands that would come together that afternoon in the Singakademie. The author investigates the role played by intellectuals, journalists, and amateur musicians (she is one herself) in developing the notion that Germans were "the people of music." Applegate assesses the impact on music's cultural place of the renewal of German Protestantism, historicism, the mania for collecting and restoring, and romanticism. In her conclusion, she looks at the subsequent careers of her protagonists and the lasting reverberations of the 1829 performance itself.

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    Bach's Dialogue with Modernity

    Providing a detailed analysis of Bach's Passions, this 2010 book represents an important contribution to the debate about the culture of 'classical music', its origins, priorities and survival. The angles from which each chapter proceeds differ from those of a traditional music guide, by examining the Passions in the light of the mindsets of modernity, and their interplay with earlier models of thought and belief. While the historical details of Bach's composition, performance and theological context remain crucial, the foremost concern of this study is to relate these works to a historical context that may, in some threads at least, still be relevant today. The central claim of the book is that the interplay of traditional imperatives and those of early modernity renders Bach's Passions particularly fascinating as artefacts that both reflect and constitute some of the priorities and conditions of the western world.

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    Engaging Bach

    More than any other part of Bach's output, his keyboard works conveyed the essence of his inimitable art to generations of admirers. The varied responses to this repertory - in scholarly and popular writing, public lectures, musical composition and transcription, performances and editions - ensured its place in the canon and broadened its creator's appeal. The early reception of Bach's keyboard music also continues to affect how we understand and value it, though we rarely recognize that historical continuity. Here, Matthew Dirst investigates how Bach's music intersects with cultural, social and music history, focusing on a repertory which is often overshadowed in scholarly and popular literature on Bach reception. Organized around the most productive ideas generated by Bach's keyboard works from his own day to the middle of the nineteenth century, this study shows how Bach's remarkable and long-lasting legacy took shape amid critical changes in European musical thought and practice.

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    Joanna is a Front-End Developer at Bookwitty. You can actually find a coffee cup from the Amsterdam Concertgebouw artist lounge on her desk. She has twice won certificates of honour (and a free ... Show More

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